Mean Girls Have Taught Me About Being Culturally Sensitive
No, I’m not talking about the Lindsay Lohan movie, but I am talking about the type of girls portrayed in that film.
You see, I wasn’t the most popular li’l girl growing up.
At times, I was bullied. Other times, I was ignored. I could never quite decide which was worse: being acknowledged, despite the interactions being unpleasant, or being treated as though I didn’t exist.
I remember once waving my hand in front of my face and thinking, “I can see myself. I’m really here.” Then I quickly tucked my hand back under my leg and swung my legs nervously (they didn’t reach the ground yet), fearful that anyone might have noticed yet another strange action from this curious girl with peculiar skin and clothes that didn’t match.
It wasn’t easy assimilating as a young child. I was awkward, with an unique name and odd cultural identities. There were many layers of ethnic heritage which my parents lovingly carried along with their possessions from their old country into their new adoptive nation.
Some days after school these mean girls would surround me, taunt me and subdue me into submission. Today, even as grown woman, there are times when I am instantly transported to those moments, when I am once again that scared child after running into a mean girl.
Yes, these mean girls still exist; they’re the adult versions of the very same ones from my childhood. Except the bulling is refined, the game is bigger and the toys more expensive. The gossip is both vulgar and offensive, the misjudgments extreme and the damage is severe.
I am the type of person who tries to see the silver lining in everything, so I’ve come to realize that while mean girls can cause lasting damage, they can also teach us lessons about being culturally sensitive to those that we encounter, whether online or in person. I’ve learned to transform their bullying into lessons about diversity and sensitivity.
The dawn of the internet has allowed many to become even more cruel and increasingly insensitive when it comes to interacting with people who possess beliefs that aren’t the same as their own, or who are from different cultures. People must remember that the anonymity of the web doesn’t diminish the anguish of being bullied or picked on.
What are some lessons that I’ve learned from these people?
Mean girls show you that they’re in pain of some sorts, despite their bravado. They can teach you to treat others with patience and courage rather than lashing out and causing harm.
They teach you that people aren’t always the same, even if they look similar or act similar. For every mean girl that I’ve encountered, I’ve also met ten other girls or women that are compassionate, open-minded and treat others with utmost respect.
By exhibiting a lack of compassion and thoughtfulness in their own behaviors, they can demonstrate to you how very important a little consideration and kindness exhibited to others can truly be.
They show you what you should do the next time you see someone from another country or culture struggling to understand instructions or trying how to figure out how to do something.
They teach you that bullying isn’t cool and never was; that the small guy doesn’t need to be picked on; that the power of compassion and empathy is far greater than that of cruelty.
Interactions with these type of people can open your eyes and encourage personal introspection. You may not be the playground bully or the college clique leader, but you may disregard subtleties or even significant differences that folks from other countries and cultures may have. Remember, exclusion is a painful experience as well.
Are you being a “mean girl” to those from other cultures by unintentionally ignoring their traditions or asking them to conform to what you think is the standard?
Mean girls have taught me quite a bit about respecting differences and being warm and welcoming to those who look, talk and behave differently from myself. They’ve taught me to consider that despite appearances, each individual has their own story and has overcome their own struggles.
Did you have a “mean girl” or bully in your life? Have you overcome interactions with intolerant people? Have any insight or thoughts on the topic? Please share with me in the comments.